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Women in Business Awards Dinner - Anderton Speech

10 March 2001 Speech Notes
Women in Business Awards Dinner

6.30 pm Saturday
10 March 2001

Commodore Quality Hotel, Memorial Avenue,

I'm flattered to be asked to speak to you tonight.

If there is one characteristic New Zealanders need to improve, it is the ability to truly celebrate our successes.

Tonight's awards recognise and celebrate the success of women who have been courageous enough to start their own business. Women who have succeeded.

Women who are inspirations and role models for other New Zealanders.

Other women thinking of starting our in business will find strength and courage from the success of pioneers who have gone before.

Women have scaled the peaks of business achievement. A woman is now the chief executive of the largest company on the New Zealand stock exchange.

More women are on boards of substantial companies and more women are starting their enterprises.

New Zealand has a woman Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the Governor General-designate is a woman, as is the chief justice and the mayors of two of our largest cities are women.

Their achievements are a signal that women can perform at the highest level. But it is not a cause for complacency.

I speak to significant business audiences almost every week. Only last Thursday half of the Cabinet was in Hamilton for the third Business-Government forum. Most of the participants were men. Most of the audience at any of the business functions I attend are men.

So we have a long, long way to go before it can be said that women are being adequately represented in the business sector.

If I have one earnest message for you tonight it is this: We need you to succeed.

New Zealand needs more businesses to succeed.

And if we're going to succeed we need to harness all of our creative and innovative talents.

This is an issue not only for women in business - but for all business and for all New Zealand.

We need businesses to flourish because we need the jobs and higher incomes that successful enterprises generate.

There are 259,000 businesses in New Zealand. Only 8500 of them are exporting - that's only four per cent of them.

Just 30 companies earn half our foreign exchange.

We are selling to the rest of the world products that are mainly commodities.

We are good at it, and we have significant natural resources. But over time our incomes are falling relative to those in other developed countries.

We are the lowest exporter of complex manufactured goods in the OECD.

While we are selling products that are largely undifferentiated from commodities sold by other countries, we are importing five times as much high-tech, high-value manufactured products as we export.

If we want jobs and rising incomes into the future, we need to do better.

We need businesses based on more than rainfall and sunshine.

85% of New Zealand businesses employ fewer than five people.

We need to get significantly more of those businesses up into the ten to fifteen staff category. We need to lift the businesses that are currently in the ten to twenty category up into thirty, forty or more.

We need far more successful, growing businesses.

This is the challenge this government is facing up to. It's been ignored for too long.

We have to transform the industrial base of the economy.

I believe we can do it.

The Government has set up the Ministry of Economic Development to be a partner with business.

We are finding many innovative enterprises and helping them to grow. They are working with regions to identify strengths and help them to maximise their potential. We are working on removing some of the obstacles that block businesses from realising their potential.

There has been a perception for as long as I can remember that women face greater obstacles in starting and growing new businesses.

The fact that there are far fewer women in boardrooms and running the largest companies proves that obstacles have stood in the way – and probably still do.

Experts point to skills that many women have that are well-suited to starting and developing a business.

Many women create their own businesses because existing working structures don't enable them to live the way they want to - or to balance work and family responsibilities.

Repeated surveys by women's magazines have identified one very important theme: The difficulties women experience in trying to balance career and family.

Starting your own business is not an easy solution. Anyone who has been in business for themselves knows how consuming the challenges can be. But it can - for many women - be a solution that enables them to adapt their working life to the difficult pressures they face.

The issue of balancing working and family life is a crucial one for a modern developed country.

The pressures cannot be solved by governments alone. Many of the pressures are cultural. As women have picked up more of the burden of paid work, men have not - in equal measure - picked up the burden of running homes.

It is still rare for men to take a year off work to raise children – while most woman who establish a career face that challenge at a crucial stage in their career development.

So there are attitudes that need to change, and that is something for all of our society to accept and deal with.

More big-firms are introducing family-friendly policies - in part because of the skill shortage, but also out of recognition of the need to retain and value skilled women staff members.

But this is still the exception not the rule.

Many women can be forgiven for thinking there is a lot of talk and no real commitment to the "family-friendly" workplace.

There are far too many New Zealanders who think that the problem of balancing families and work is one for individuals to deal with. That is the attitude expressed in some of the comments I hear expressed about paid parental leave.

The problem of balancing conflicting family and employment demands is a problem for our society as whole. It needs to be addressed by society as whole.

Of course an enlighted government can make a difference. It can provide leadership. It can change some laws. But it cannot, alone, change attitudes.

The challenges of trying to balance conflicting demands on time have taught many women very valuable business skills. Women who juggle families and work often do well in business. They are used to being flexible, juggling conflicting demands on their time and communicating well.

These qualities are all in high demand. Work is changing away from traditional hierarchical structures. It's becoming much more fast-moving, specialised, and customer-focused. Flexibility, time management and communication are increasingly valuable skills.

Let the successes of women who have succeeded in this environment be an inspiration to other women who have good ideas. New Zealand needs their ideas, their innovation and their skill.

It's a tribute to the women here tonight that you have found a way to meet the challenges and overcome the obstacles.

I would like to pay tribute to tonight's South Island winner of the Businesswomen of the Year Award.

Miranda Caird opened her business, Mortgage Choice, in 1996, taking on the banking establishment.

Taking on the banks single-handedly.

I know what that's like. It isn't easy!

As an aside I can tell you that in 1996 I was giving speeches about a fascinating coincidence in the banking industry: They all offered exactly the same mortgage package, and changed their offers at exactly the same time.

What they needed was some competition.

The evolution of mortgage brokers provided some of it. We have seen a much more competitive range of mortgage products emerge in New Zealand, as a result.

I still harbour a few doubts about the banking industry - and you might have heard that I have a plan to keep the banks honest.

But I also pay tribute to New Zealand businesses like Miranda Caird's that have helped to make a real difference.

Women are opening more doors and achieving more in business - and for that matter in every current of human life - from politics to sports to art.

New Zealand needs you to succeed.

It remains for me to assure you that this Government is committed to assisting innovative businesses to succeed. We are here to work in partnership and to remove the obstacles in the way of development.

We want to create many more job-rich, high-value, high-skill businesses in the future.

New Zealanders are the only people in the world who are committed to furthering the security and opportunity of and for New Zealanders.

We have the keys to a successful future in our own hands.

I welcome the success of those being honoured tonight, and I look forward to working in partnership with all successful businesses in securing more successes in the future both for you all personally and for the future of New Zealand.


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